The bill seeking to legalise marijuana use for the treatment of cancer needed to be amended before proceeding, the Central Drug Authority (CDA) said.

The CDA made submissions to Parliament’s portfolio committee on health on Wednesday, saying the Medical Innovation Bill was “confusing and if it remains in its current form it could result in more social ills in the country”.

The CDA deputy chairman, David Bayever, said while there had been strong views on the legalisation of marijuana or cannabis for medicinal, cultural and religious use, decriminalising it could result in significant public health risks.

Proposed by the late IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini as a private members’ bill last February, it advocated for the legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes and for beneficial commercial and industrial uses.

Ambrosini, stricken with lung cancer, appealed to President Jacob Zuma to legalise medicinal marijuana as an alternative treatment for cancer patients.

Ambrosini told Zuma he was supposed to have died already, but the marijuana remedy had saved his life, adding that it was a crime against humanity to deny the treatment to millions of cancer patients.

But addressing MPs on Wednesday, Bayever raised concerns about the harm cannabis caused, saying legalising it must be looked at from a medicinal point of view only.

In a country such as South Africa, overburdened by the effects of alcohol and drug abuse, legalising cannabis for other uses could add to the burden of abuse, especially among youth, he said.

“At this stage we feel that the bill is confusing as it proposes medicinal use and other uses such as commercialisation of the plant, which we believe would add to more social problems.